Category Archives: blog

Sunday 19th Nov 2017

One final blog entry before I go home! Today I got up and went for a quick jog around the block and then back to my hotel room to pack up. I left my bag in the hotel and went to iHop for breakfast. A lovely day in Philly today – cold but sunny, and probably the clearest and sunniest day there has been this past week. I went for a wander around the downtown area, where I saw a skating rink and some market stalls gearing for Christmas – it seems to arrive in a  big way here even before Thanksgiving.

I walked back to the hotel district and went into Dunkin’ Donuts where I sat and did work on my laptop. Currently, I am back in the hotel lobby waiting for my cab to the airport for a 6.35pm flight home via Heathrow.

It has been a great trip – I have had a bit of a cold virus the whole week, but I have not let it spoil my time here, and now beginning to feel better. It’s been nice to meet up with so many friends and form new collaborations as well as attending so many stimulating sessions at ASC and also seeing some of the sights of Philly.

I’m now looking forward to developing further papers with James Densley and Simon Harding, a planned research council funding application with them next year and developing some addition grant proposals with Lisa Dario. And I intend to join the ASC Division of Policing, and to keep in touch with so many of the new people I met here this year.

And of course, I’m also looking forward to going home and seeing my family  …

‘Till next time …


Friday 18th-Sat 19th Nov 2017

The last couple of days have been really hectic. Yesterday I went to a number of sessions at the conference, including the one where Lincoln and Cassandra from FAU were presenting on their work on problem-solving courts which was really interesting. In the audience was Lisa Angstrom, who was one of my graduate students in FAU and has come to the ASC conference for the first time and brought her daughter along – it was good to see her again. I then went back to the hotel at 5pm and got ready to go back out again. I walked the five minute walk back up the conference hotel and met Frank Cullen, his graduate students and one of his friends from Arkansas who is a Pro-Vice Chancellor there and a very nice guy. It was great to spend time with Frank and the others and we went to an oyster restaurant close to the hotel. Frank has always been a good friend to me, and is always genuinely interested in my work and willing to go out of his way to help me. He is one of the biggest names in Criminology and has had a prolific publishing record, but is so humble and genuine and it was great to see him again after having spent a couple of days at his home in Cincinnati in April with him and his wife.

After we finished the meal we walked back to the conference hotel which was still buzzing with all the delegates, I then walked back down to my own hotel.

This morning I woke up early – I seem to still be wakening around 4.30/5am. I got up around 6.50, got ready and walked round to i-Hop for breakfast then up to the conference for the early morning sessions. Most people had by now gone home, so the sessions were very quiet – one session only had me and one other person in the audience. But there were some really good sessions this morning, including one on gangs, one on religion and spirituality in religion and a very interesting one on police training and procedural justice. I then went to the closing conference brunch where there were maybe about 100 people – with the vast majority of delegates now gone. I then went back to my hotel, got changed and went on the bus to the East State Penitentiary to go on the tour there, and met Lisa (my graduate students from FAU), who was going on the tour with her daughter and Kirsten, another graduate student from FAU. Robert Weide, my friend from California State University in LA, was also there. The tour was really fascinating – it is such a historical place, and I was able to see inside Al Capone’s prison cell and to hear the full history of the Penitentiary. The display in one of the open areas was quite startling – showing in visual form how high the rate of incarceration is in the USA now compared to 40 years ago, and compared to other parts of the world – the USA incarcerating 750 people per 100,000 citizens compared to 154 people per 100,000 citizens in the UK and only 54 people per 100, 000 in Denmark.

After the tour Lisa, her daughter and I then walked down to the Museum of Art to see the ‘Rocky steps and statue and get photos taken. We then did the long walk back (through the heavy rain) to the conference hotel where they called a ca back to their hotel and I then walked back to mine. I got changed and then went out and had a Philly cheese steak at a local restaurant and then a cup of team and a doughnut from Dunkin’ Donuts!

Overall, it has been a great conference and a great trip. So good to meet so many friends who I only really see at events like these ones.

Tomorrow I have until 3.30 before I need to leave for the airport.

Thurs 16th Nov 2017

Today was a very busy day. I got up very early and went to ihop for breakfast then made my way to the conference. I arrived in time to attend an early morning session at 8am led by Scott Decker (Arizona State University) and David Pyrooz (University of Colorado) focused on prison gangs. I met James and Simon there and we then went to another session together on gang members’  use of social media, before then finding a quiet space to Skype back to Scotland to connect with my PhD student Robert McLean, who was in UWS’s Paisley campus when we called. James, Simon, Robert and I talked about our planned collaborative papers over the next 3-4 months, and then I called home afterwards to talk to Karen and Alan. After this I went to meet Lisa Dario from FAU and we went for lunch together in a nice italian restaurant across the road. It was really great to see her again and we talked about some funding proposals we are going to work on together next year. Lots of exciting ideas and I am really looking forward to working with Lisa.

In the afternoon I attended a couple more conference sessions including an interesting one on disadvantaged populations and policing. At 3.30, I attended the ASC Division of Policing reception and awards ceremony with Lisa, and I bumped in Cynthia Lum there who I had worked with in George Mason University in DC in March when I went there to give an outreach lecture while I was doing my Fulbright. I went back to the main bar of the hotel after this and met a whole group of my FAU colleagues – Cassanda, Vaughn, Lincoln and his wife Vanessa, Mara, Lisa. I also met two of the new Faculty who have joined since I left. It was so nice to see everyone again and catch up and have a drink together. It felt like old times!

After this I made my way to the poster session – this is the opportunity for Doctoral students and aspiring Doctoral students to display their projects and get feedback from Professors and academic staff. I bumped into James, Simon, Andrew Johnson (who had been on our panel yesterday) and Sean Redmond and said my goodbyes to James who leaves tomorrow morning. Finally, I made my way to the Cincinnati University reception – an annual event that I always try and attend. I talked to my good friend Frank Cullen and met all of his Doctoral students again who I had met in April when I was there lecturing. It was nice to see them all again.

On the way out I was asked to take a photograph of Frank with some Polish colleagues, and after I had done this I walked out of the ballroom area of the hotel with a guy called Chris Eskridge and his wife. They were talking to me about Scotland and that they had visited there a few years ago, and it turns out Chris is the Executive Director of American Society of Criminology and coordinates the organisation of the conference every year, with over 4000 delegates. It was great to meet him, and he then introduced me to Emil Plywaczewski who heads up the top Law School in Poland. A very impressive guy – this is such a really great conference for meeting the top criminologists  in the world. I chatted to Emil for a while before leaving the Marriott to walk back to my own hotel.

All in all, a very busy and interesting day, and so many opportunities today to meet people who I have worked with from different parts of America as well as making new connections.

Tues 14th-Wed 15th November 2017

Because things have been so hectic and difficulty with getting a regular wifi signal, I have not managed to return to my blog until now. Tuesday was an interesting cultural day – I went for breakfast to ihop and then got on the hop on/off bus tour which took me around the city of Philadelphia. It was an interesting tour – so much history to learn about in this city. I got off at the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall which was really interesting and has lovely surroundings. I also saw the steps outside the art museum included in the famous scene in the Rocky film. Once complete, I walked back to the Marriot hotel where the conference is being held and got my conference pack, then back to my own hotel to get changed and bumped into James Densley and Andrew Johnson and arranged to meet them for dinner. we went out to a bar and then for a meal with James’s friends Michelle and Craig, and finished the evening off in a very usual bar with no windows and some very interesting decor.

The next morning, on Wednesday, was our panel presentation. James and I met with Simon Harding and had coffee in the morning and had a good discussion about the next set of papers we plan to work on with Robert McLean, my former PhD student. Robert was due to Skype with us but send us messages in the morning to say his wife has just had her baby so was obviously unable to Skype in! After this we went and met Malcolm Rigby from Arkansas and presented our panel – to went really well, and it was a great chance for me to present some of the thinking behind my forthcoming book on ‘Gangs and Spirituality’, and share some of the emerging insights. Simon did a fantastic job of weaving together all the insights from our papers, summing up and leading into the Q&A session at the end.

After this I went to a couple of other sessions and then met up with James, Simon and David Pyrooz, who is a leading USA gangs researcher from University of Colorado, Boulder. We went for a long walk and then had dinner in a restaurant in the city close to the Liberty Bell. Afterwards, Simon and I shared a cab back to the Marriott and I walked back down to my hotel from there.

Arrival back in the USA – Monday 13th Nov 2017

I know that a lot of people enjoyed reading my blogs while I was doing my Fulbright scholarship and so I thought it would be good to resurrect my blog this week while I am back in the USA again. I might not write it every day but will try and get some blog entries in a few times this week!

So today began at 3.50am for me – my taxi was due at 4.15, and it arrived just in time to take me to the airport. I have to say that the driver reminded me of everything I love about Glasgow – I had a right good dose of the Glasgow banter during the 20 minute journey with him. Immediate I got into the car, it started when he quipped ‘did you get the short straw the day then?’ He went on to tell me all about being brought up in Easterhouse and then moving to Drumchapel. Of course he wanted to know why I was going to Philadelphia and when I told him I was a criminologist you can only imagine what that started … then when I told him I was a Professor, he told me he’s never met a real Professor before and started calling me ‘Prof’. He then told me all about his kids and how they have all ended up in good jobs. He was full of stories and jokes and it got the day off to a good start. There’s nowhere quite like Glasgow!

I had breakfast at the airport and then my flight to London went off just on time, and arrived early in Healthrow which meant I didn’t have to worry about the tight connection for my Philadelphia flight. It was a lovely day in London – clear blue skies – as I got into the terminal bus to go from Terminal 5 to 3. In less than no time, the next flight was ready for departure. When i got on the American Airlines flight I was pleased to see that it was a really large plane with three rows of seats, unlike the small ones I have been used to the last few times I went to America. Plus the fact that it was half empty and so I was able to spread myself out, with no one sitting beside me. Looking around the plane, it was strange to see how quiet it was – most of the passengers seemed to be guys travelling on their own and hardly anyone was sitting right beside anyone else. It made for a peaceful flight, and I managed to get loads of work done on my laptop.

The flight arrived in Philly around 1.45pm, and as i walked into the passport control area in the airport it felt strange to be back on USA soil – the first time since the day I left South Florida on 9th May after my 4 months there. As I looked around I was reminded that this was where it had all begun for me on 4th January – I had flown to Philadelphia to get a connecting flight to Fort Lauderdale, and I remember having buffalo wings and beer in a restaurant in the airport, with the whole Fulbright adventure still ahead of me. Ten months have passed since then and it hardly seems any time.

Having got passed passport control and collected my bag, I was approached immediately I got into the main airport building by a guy asking if I wanted a taxi. He offered me a shared ride and then he  asked a woman who had also just arrived from London if she wanted to share with me. She agreed, and we got the taxi together to downtown for $30 each. On the way, the taxi driver provided us with a very different type of chat from the guy in Glasgow this morning – he was from Trinidad, and talked all about the different crime rates there compared to Philly. He also talked about the Black Lives Matter campaign, and the tensions that often exist between while police officers and the African American community. As we chatted, it took me back to all the research I did while I was in South Florida.

I arrived at my hotel around 3pm, unpacked and then went out for a walk. The downtown area is nice – it is busy and quite industrial looking. It has a different feel to it from any other US city I have visited before. I am looking forward to seeing more of it tomorrow.  I went to CVS Pharmacy and then Walgreen’s to get some things that Karen and my sister Lyn had asked me to get. Then I went back to the hotel and then went back out to get something to eat in a diner round the corner. I also found i-Hop which is literally 2 minutes walk away, and two Dunkin’ Donuts within easy reach. So I am all set for the morning!

I’m looking forward to hopefully meeting up with James and Simon tomorrow – James Densley is my very good colleague, friend and fellow gangs researcher from Minnesota (but who is actually from London) and Simon is my good colleague and friend who works in London, and is also a gangs researcher (and originates from Scotland). James is staying at the same hotel as me and arrives tomorrow, and I think Simon should also be here tomorrow.  We are then all involved in the panel presentation together on Wednesday.

I am now totally knackered since it is 7.50pm (UK time: 12.50am). I think it will be time to sleep very soon!

American Society of Criminology 2017

As this year’s American Society of Criminology conference approaches, I am feeling particularly excited about the trans-Atlantic panel I will be participating in. Chaired by Dr James Densley from Metropolitan State University in Minnesota, the panel will have a title of ‘Disengagement from Gangs: The Role of Religion and Spirituality’. In addition to James and myself, the panel will have inputs from Dr Andrew Johnson (also from Metropolitan State University), Dr Malcolm Rigby from Henderson State University in Arkansas and Dr Simon Harding from University of West London, who will act as Discussant.

Collectively, we will examine the role of religion and spirituality in the negotiated process of gang disengagement. Drawing on empirical work on the streets and in prisons in Europe, North America and South America, and grounded in theory and research on distance from crime, offender rehabilitation and continuity and change in gang membership and gang embededdness, each of our papers will explore the ways in which religion and spirituality can encourage de-identification with gangs and both facilitate and communicate disengagement.

In my own paper, I will draw on insights from my forthcoming book ‘Gangs and Spirituality’ (due to be published by Palgrave MacMillan in the summer of 2018) to explore the potential that religion and spirituality may have in enabling marginalised young men to contest gang masculinity and to support gang exit. Drawing from qualitative data from three continents of the world, I will present some key insights about the challenges that gang members face and the links between their socially constructed views of masculinity, their fundamental moral and ethical precepts and their participation in gang violence. In addition, I will present insights from international case studies to examine the potential relationship between religious and spiritual participation and desistance efforts among gang members. Insights from spiritual and faith-based interventions in the USA, Europe and Asia will be drawn upon to illustrate the way in which spiritually-oriented programmes hold potential to assist gang members in re-focusing their masculine orientations and the impact this has on supporting them to reform. Implications will be made in terms of the way in which spiritual processes, resources and bonds may be drawn upon as a trigger for gang desistance in the future.

Presenting this paper within the panel will be a terrific way to receive initial feedback on the insights from my new book, of which I now only have one remaining chapter to write. It will be a privilege for me to work with James, Andrew, Malcolm and Simon on this panel and to visit Philadelphia for the first time. In addition to the panel, I am looking forward to the wider conference inputs which focus around the overarching ASC theme of ‘Crime, Legitimacy and Reform.’ I know I will meet up with some of the most prominent criminologists in the world at the conference, and look forward to finding new opportunities for future collaborative work.

European Society of Criminology 2017

On Wednesday of this week I will travel to Cardiff, Wales, for this year’s European Society of Criminology conference. This year I have assembled an international panel focusing on procedural justice in policing. I am delighted to be working with Dr Seth Fallik and Dr Vaughn Crichlow from Florida Atlantic University and with Dr Philip Stenning and Dr Alistair Fildes from Griffith University, Australia.

The panel session will focus on exploring global insights into the complex array of intersecting factors that can influence the extent to which procedural justice is embedded within policing. Drawing on insights from two continents, my co-presenters and I will adopt a critical perspective on previous research in this area and provide illustrations of current practice emerging through participant observation and in-depth interviews in the United States and Australia. Issues related to the ‘Ferguson Effect’ in the USA and its perceived impact on police agencies’ awareness and promotion of procedural justice will be explored, as well as critical perspectives on previous research and the factors that may prevent officers from using procedural justice in Australia. In presenting our international insights, we aim to open up wider discussion about the implications of our findings in terms of future attempts to improve law enforcement legitimacy around the world.

In our own paper, Dr Fallik and I will present insights from ethnographic research into the policing of violent crime in the ‘post-Ferguson era’ in the USA. Several scholars have speculated that the fatal shooting of a young, black and male citizen (Michael Brown) by a white male police officer in Ferguson, Missouri created political and media backlash against law enforcement that has eroded police authority in the United States. In the paper, we will share insights from qualitative research on the perceived nature and impact of the “Ferguson Effect” on officer confidence, morale, and policing strategies. Participant observation of officer deployments in two counties within a southern American State were paired with in-depth semi-structured interviews with 20 law enforcement officials. These data suggest that the “Ferguson Effect” has prompted increased conceptual awareness of procedural justice but also contributed to a reduction in officer morale and emphasis on proactive policing strategies. During the session we will discuss the implications for these findings in terms of future police policies and practices within a procedural justice framework that contributes to crime reduction and law enforcement legitimacy.

If you are able to make it to Cardiff, I look forward to seeing you there. If not, then I hope you might get to read our work on the above issues sometime in the future. Our intention is to produce several published outputs from our work in the months and years to come.


Gangs and Spirituality – Global Perspectives

I am in the process of writing a new book entitled ‘Gangs and Spirituality – Global Perspectives.’ The book is due to be published in the summer of 2018, and is fundamentally about the relationship between masculinity, gang disengagement, desistance and spirituality. The book draws on insights I have gathered through qualitative research across three continents of the world – Europe, America and Asia.

I am currently in the midst of writing Chapter 8 of the book. In this chapter,  I present insights from semi-structured interviews I conducted with a small sample of men in Denmark. Some of these men were still incarcerated when I worked with them, while others had been recently released from prison. The interviewees were former members of Danish street gangs and biker gangs or (in a minority of cases) drug dealers outwith gang structures. These men had regularly begun to participate in a particular form of physical yoga exercises, dynamic breathing techniques and meditation practices, and in the chapter I combine their insights with those emerging from interviews I conducted with yoga and meditation coaches. I explore the way in which the men discussed and described the cognitive and identity shifts they experienced through the practices, the way in which they felt more able to deal more effectively with negative and destructive emotions and the personal strains that led them into gang violence and wider criminality.

This chapter, as with others in the new book, provides insights into the types of pioneering approaches that can best support gang members’  progression towards criminal desistance. Further information on the new book will be released during future blogs and Twitter feeds. The date of release will be confirmed in due course. Watch this space!


Monday 8th May 2017

After 4 months of being on my Fulbright scholarship and sharing all of my daily insights and adventures, this is now my final blog entry. Today I got up at 6.15 and had breakfast with John while Evelyn got their grandkids ready. I was feeling pretty rough with the cold and swollen glands but Evelyn gave me some special medicine for colds and flu which helped.  John and I left the house just after 7, took their granddaughter Harper to Dunkin donuts for a donut treat and then on to kindergarten.

John then drove us both into FAU. I went into my office and began to write out the Fulbright report I need to do I then took a walk across campus and had one last look around. I came back to the office and Lincoln came into my office with a special gift for me which is a book called ‘More than a Carpenter’ by Josh and Sean McDowell. Last Tuesday, on my birthday and during the Dean’s reception, I had asked Lincoln if he was a church goer and we had both shared our Christian faith with each other.  This was his gift to me as I left, and is the story of a skeptic who came to Christ. I look forward to reading it … and will remember him and Vanessa, his wife, when I do.

I said my goodbyes to Seth, Cassandra, Lincoln and Vaughn which made me feel sad – but so happy I have met them all and had the chance to make friends with all these special people. For those who were not here today, I sent out an email and left chocolates and a card in the office.

John and I drove to Geo, the private company who runs several prisons in the county, to have a meeting. We then drove back to Palm Gardens and bought lunch at a local delicatessen which was really amazing, with so many great sandwiches and salads. we took the sandwiches home and ate them, then we all went for a nap. I lay for a while in my room, then skyped home and talked to Karen and Alan. I then did some work and then went down and joined John and Evelyn at the pool where John and I had a long island iced tea and Evelyn had a gin and tonic. We got ready and went out for dinner to a local restaurant called Seasons 52 – part of the same chain that I had visited with Frank Cullen in Cincinnati three weeks ago. I only realise this when they brought out the same dessert choices – and I had the same chocolate peanut butter torte I had had in Cincinnati! However, the location was so much nicer this time – on the edge of the waterway with boats sailing past. A really special location and great cocktails followed by a lovely meal, as every one I have had with the Smyklas has been. Afterwards, we drove back and John and I had a brandy by the pool. There is something about their house and their company that just makes you feel so relaxed and I have felt this ever since my very first visit here on 4th January.

Tomorrow morning John will take me to Fort Lauderdale airport for 10am and I will get on the plane to Philadelphia, followed by my connecting flight from there to Glasgow. Four months have passed since I arrived here full of anticipation on 4th January. I have had such an amazing time here, full of great times, adventures, learning experiences and also some challenges which I have managed to tackle and deal with. I am now looking forward to being ‘homeward bound.’

Thanks to all of you who have followed my daily musings. I am looking forward to being back with family and back in Glasgow – and to seeing you all in person very soon!

Night night




Sunday 7th May 2017

Today I edged closer to the end of my time here … I went to Denny’s for a final breakfast then on to Boca Raton Community Church for a final visit there for the Sunday morning service. The church has been such a feature of my time here and it was strange to think back to the very first Sunday on 8th January when I went there for the first time and experienced the high energy and uplifting service that takes place there.  Now I am used to it; although it has been a very enriching experience being part of it, there is a big part of me that is so looking forward to getting back to St Paul’s and to Fergus’s preaching. I said my farewells to Pastor Bill at the end, to Bob who has been so kind to me and to Roger on the way out of the door.

I went straight to the car hire company and returned my car. At the end of the process they asked me about what I had thought of the service I had received and if there was anything they could have done differently. I was quite direct in telling them my opinion about one or two things but then it was time to move on! John met me there and we went back to FAU and brought down all my boxes and bags from the apartment into the boot of his car. I checked out, and had a final look around and then we left and drove up to Palm Beach Gardens. we stopped off at a chocolate store for me to buy some chocolates for faculty and then went  to the Smykas.

I called American Airlines to see about booking two extra bags on the flight home. I was told it would cost 100 dollars for the first bag and 200 dollars for the second one. I decided that this was something  I was not prepared to pay so spend the next 2 hours opening up all my bags, selecting items I could throw away (including a pair of old trainers, old socks and lots of paperwork that I reckoned I could live without) and reducing the contents considerably , so that I now only have one additional bag.

I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening playing with John and Evelyn’s grandchildren who were here overnight. We played  in the pool and I taught their granddaughter how to play Marco Polo. She then created a fashion show for us with all her toys, and once they had got settled into watching some movies on their iPads John, Evelyn and I had cocktails and a lovely dinner.

As I enter week 19 here tomorrow is my final day before I fly home.